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U. S. finalizes COOL rule

The United States will publish soon the final version of country-of-origin meat labelling rules being challenged by Canada and Mexico as a violation of world trade rules, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Jan. 8.

The rule requires country-of-origin labels (COOL) on meat sold in U. S. grocery stores. Labelling became mandatory Sept. 30 under an interim rule. The U. S. Agriculture Department says it will allow a six-month transition for food makers and retailers to comply.

Schafer told reporters he has signed the final rule. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said the text would be published in coming days in the Federal Register. Conner declined to say if the final rule differed from the interim regulation.

“All in all, we struck a good balance,” said Schafer.

U. S. consumer and farm groups say the labelling rules will distinguish U. S.-grown food from imports on the grocery shelf and meet the shopper’s right to know about products.

On Dec. 1, Canada took the first step in challenging the U. S. regulation before the World Trade Organization.

Canada says the labelling rule poses an unfair technical trade barrier that makes U. S. meat packers less willing to buy Canadian cattle and only at lower prices.

Up to 1.5 million head of cattle are shipped to U. S. buyers from Canada each year and two-thirds are slaughter cattle, says a Canadian cattle group.

Mexico joined the trade challenge in mid-December.

USDA has told food makers to be as specific as possible in the meat labels.

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